Queen Latifah On Being Her Mom’s Caregiver: ‘I Would Just Want to Fall Apart’


Queen Latifah has never been the type to stay in one lane. With magnetic performances in Girls Trip, Chicago, and Beauty Shop, a starring role on CBS crime drama The Equalizer (for which she is also an executive producer), and numerous Grammy Awards for her pioneering rap records in the ’90s, the 51-year-old is one of Hollywood’s most talented multi-hyphenates.

On top of her work in entertainment, she’s also held the role of caregiver. In 2018, Latifah lost her beloved mother, Rita Owens, to interstitial lung disease (ILD). The disease causes progressive, irreversible scarring of the lungs that can lead to life-threatening health issues like high blood pressure in the lungs, right-sided heart failure, and respiratory failure, according to the Mayo Clinic. The prevalence of ILD in the U.S. is 67.2 cases per 100,000 women and 80.9 cases per 100,000 men. This makes it slightly more common than lung cancer in the U.S. (which has a prevalence of 60 cases per 100,000 women, according to the CDC).

Now, Latifah is set to appear in Beyond Breathless, a new documentary that explores the experiences and challenges of the people, caregivers, and medical professionals facing this lung disease. Ahead of the documentary’s Sunday screening on A&E at 12 p.m. E.T., SELF sat down with Latifah to learn about her experiences as a caregiver, her thoughts on self care, and the larger-than-life figure that was her mom.

SELF: Hi, Queen! It’s so wonderful to speak. Thank you for your time. I understand Beyond Breathless is really personal for you, as you lost your mom to ILD. You’ve said before that she was the love of your life. What was she like?

Queen Latifah: She really was the love of my life. My first love. She loved me. She supported everything I did and wanted to try. She actually introduced me to the DJ who would become my first producer, and to some of my friends who would become my rap buddies—from Apache to Shakim to Ramsey to Latee. She was part of my management company. She always made sure we saved money and were okay when we went on the road. She was the wind beneath our wings. She believed we could accomplish anything we put our minds to. She supported us.

Your mom sounds like an absolute legend.

She really is. And I’m not the only one with this story—there are many lives she intervened in and changed the trajectory of, in a positive way. She was a very special person. She was funny, stylish, fly, cool, and beautiful too. You know, she’s the kind of teacher you would want.

When she was facing ILD, you were her caregiver. How did you take care of yourself during this time?

It was tough, I’m not going to lie. I was working a lot, as I always am. I think it was important to take a break sometimes. Take a hike. Take a walk. And try to get some sleep. You know, just escape a little bit. Just watch something on TV, like some sci-fi. Mom and I would do that together. Or even get a massage, get some reflexology. Massage was important to us. I would give my mother massages. We had a massage table in the house, and so I would just give my mom a foot rub, or just a full-body massage.

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